7 Concepts (Inspired From Lean) To Boost Your Productivity

Simple exercises to implement right away

Photo by Dil on Unsplash

Lean transformation is not just a process improvement technique but more of a cultural transformation program that when implemented successfully, can produce extraordinary results.

Most companies if not all, would have introduced Lean practices in some form or the other. It might be referred to as a simplification initiative, process re-engineering or transformation programs. But they all use the underlying principles of ‘Lean.’

Lean draws its origins from the famous ‘Toyota Production System’ back in the 1930s. Shiego Shingo and Taiichi Ohno were the pioneers in designing Toyota’s manufacturing process or what we commonly know as Just-in-time manufacturing.

The most common definition of Lean used in the context of lean manufacturing is ‘waste-reduction’. However, there is so much more to it than just reducing waste. It isn’t just a methodology or technique; it is a mindset shift.

I have worked for over 4.5 years implementing Lean practices for a major US bank at the start of my career. I am grateful to have that opportunity early on in my life as it gave me a perspective to challenge the status quo that has helped me not just professionally but also personally.

I have sub-consciously applied a lot of these techniques in my personal life as well that I want to share with you.

Let me explain using a few concepts — what I learnt and how we can use it in our daily lives.

1. Muda

Muda in Japanese means “wastefulness” — identify activities that don’t add any value to our output.

In organizations, there are several non-value add activities or processes we try to eliminate or automate.

In real life as well, there are several such non-value add things/interests that we can easily identify and get rid of to save money, space, time and effort. For starters, think about all the subscriptions that you no longer use such as Magazines, Apps and Club Membership.

Also, if you scan through your wardrobe to find clothes/shoes/accessories which are collecting dust, that’s your Muda right there.

Do this simple exercise

If you just look around in the room that you are in, can you find at least find ten such items which are a complete waste?

It’s occupying space not only in that room but also in our minds.

What to do?

Declutter your wardrobe, house, garage - get rid of everything of little to no value to you or your family.

Also, the world has become increasingly toxic; you don’t need any more of it. So declutter your mind too — get rid of all the wasteful thoughts — “I am not good enough,” “I am a failure,” “No one loves me,” “I will never succeed.”

Toxicity will never let you progress.

2. Mura

Mura means “unevenness.”

Inconsistent processes or unlevelled workloads can cause over-utilized or underutilized resources.

Similarly, in our personal lives, we all strive to create consistency in life by balancing the work, leisure and sleep buckets.

However, most often than not, we struggle to achieve this balance due to the ever-changing environment we operate in today’s times — Increased work pressure, caffeine addiction, insomniac tendencies — just to name a few.

Do this simple exercise

Identify the patterns — how much time you spend on work, leisure and sleep. Is it ‘9–7–8’ or ‘10–9–5’ or ‘10–6–8’?

Then identify the pattern you most want to achieve and start levelling those buckets.

What to do?

If you are spending too much time at your work impacting your ‘me’ time or your ‘sleep’ time, you are going to experience burn out and stress.

For example, long working hours or poor eating habits won’t be sustainable in the long run, and sooner or later, you will need to readjust those patterns.

If you don’t spend time to identify and rectify this unevenness, then nature will find its way to balance it out for you

To build on the previous example, if your work bucket is tilting the scales, you will experience sore backs, spinal injuries, mental health issues, etc. as you age you’d spend double the time and money in getting it back on track.

Instead spend time now to save time later. Create more sustainable routines.

I have written about some ways in which we can aim to achieve this balance in this article titled — The 8–8–8 RULE. Have a read to find more details.

Credit — gmbaresponsiblemarketing.blogspot.com

3. Muri

Muri translates to overburden.”

It means over utilizing the resources to achieve higher outcomes.

Sometimes you stretch your limits to accommodate everything in your diary — urgent deliverables, kids homework, grocery shopping, cleaning, personal errands, etc. Unfortunately, this is not sustainable.

The list never ends. But our energy does.

Our time is limited, but not our desires. In this fast-paced competitive world, we seldom sit back and reflect, what is absolutely critical — what are our priorities and how best can we achieve them.

Do this simple exercise

Identify the most significant goal that excites you. De-prioritize everything else.

What to do?

Everyone’s got the same deal — no one has “extra hours” or “superpowers.”

What differentiates successful people from most others is their ability to understand what drives them and then be laser-focused to achieve those goals.

It will ensure you aren’t overburdened or overwhelmed. You know your priorities, and you are working towards it. Some days are slow; some others fly, but it’s essential to keep moving.

For me, writing is my priority, so I plan to make writing my single most important activity on the non-work days.

I organize the other tasks around writing without a time-limit. If I can accomplish them, that’s a great win, but if I can’t, it won’t bother me.

4. Gemba and Genchi Gembutsu

Gemba means “the actual place of work where value is created”, and Genchi Gembutsu means “floor-walks.”

It’s a popular concept in companies using Lean practices to see the actual process, understand the work, ask questions, and learn from the ground-level workers.

It gives them a lot of insights into how things work are at the ground level, thereby make better decisions.

In our personal lives, too, be closer to reality — we often ignore the real world around us to engage with people in the virtual world.

Many studies on social media usage and mental health have shown that the prolonged use of social media like Facebook or Instagram is positively associated with mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

Using the concept of Gemba be closer to the real world than the virtual world.

Do this simple exercise

Identify the time spent online vs time spent offline for a week.

Online means everything you do on a digital platform — browsing YouTube videos, posting on social media, playing games, consuming news, etc..

Offline means everything that doesn’t need a screen — driving, dancing, cooking, gardening, dinner with family, etc.

What to do?

Check for patterns — are you addicted to checking your phone every 15 minutes? Have you become borderline obsessed with checking the Coronavirus statistics? Or do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through millions of food, cat or workout videos?

If you are guilty of any of the above, it’s time to rethink how wired we are to the digital world. Unfortunately, it isn’t part of the school curriculum, also neither we as a society have evolved to understand it’s deep-rooted effects.

Nevertheless, we can self-regulate our lives. Cut down your use of social media and rather take advantage of nature while it lasts.

Instead, go for walks, engage with local artisans, use a cycle to commute or to stay healthy.

I did a small experiment in early 2019 to stay away from social media.

Originally, I planned for only one month, but I was able to continue for three months — Although, I am back on most platforms, the experiment changed my perspective towards social media.

I know, how to filter the 10% content that I must consume and ignore the remaining 90% of it, which may not be futile but doesn’t require my attention.

My attention is precious, and I need to use it judiciously.

5. Poka Yoke

In Japanese, Poka-Yoke means “mistake-proofing” or “inadvertent error prevention.” Processes are put in place to detect or prevent any damages due to human error.

Most warnings or alerts we see in our day-to-day lives are a result of Poka-Yoke.

The car that beeps when the seatbelt is not fastened is one such example of error proofing. Or a washing machine that won’t open when in operation is another such example.

It wasn’t the case when the very first model of the washing machine came into operation — they allowed for manual intervention causing injuries. But we learnt, improvised from our mistakes and most machines we get today are designed to prevent such mishaps or accidents.

Similarly, in our personal lives too as humans, we are bound to err. However, when we learn from our mistakes, we set ourselves for success. History is witness to the fact that those who don’t learn and evolve, often perish.

Do this simple exercise

Identify this one weakness you want to improve in your current endeavour. For me, I want to improve on my communication style — there is so much to learn from the orators, public speakers and influencers in this space — I believe this will help me in my field of writing immensely.

What to do?

Acknowledge that we aren’t perfect. We all have our flaws, and we can improve upon them. Identify areas of improvement that will complement your goals. Take tiny steps.

Even one tiny step each day can mean 30 steps in a month and 365 steps in a year — there is nothing you cannot improve in 365 steps.

All you need is perseverance to last till your 365th step — are you ready to do that?

6. Hansei

It means “Self-Reflection.” Reflection is an art of observing, introspecting and improving not to repeat the same mistakes or decisions that led us to the failures in the first place.

In Agile methodologies, there is a lot of importance to ceremonies — different meetings and discussion done during a sprint. One of the ceremonies is a ‘Sprint Retrospective’ wherein teams discuss what went well, what could be improved and how do we plan to improve it in the following sprints.

In personal lives, too, it is essential to reflect on our failures and seek to improve over time.

We sometimes fail as parents, as partners and as professionals.
We make terrible decisions in all aspects of our life such as health, personality, relationships, productivity, and environment that cause us stress.

Sometimes we need to sit back and reflect what went wrong, and how did we reach there? It is easier to get into a spin of negative self-talk. But it is important to stay positive, hopeful and self-critical.

“Just remember; someone loves everything you hate about yourself.”
— Frank Ocean

Danny Forest has written a comprehensive article on 31 things you should say ‘No’ to for a happier life.

He has used self-reflection as a technique not only to create a list of things he wants to focus on but also things he doesn’t want to focus on to lead a happier life.

It includes but is not limited to procrastination, bad routines, toxic people, clutter, food with no quality nutrients, spending the most time with wrong people, etc.

Do this simple exercise

Reflect on the major aspects of your life — health, money, relationships, work, interests, productivity and rank them on a scale of 1 to 10 with ten being ‘Most satisfied’ and one being ‘Least satisfied.’

For those aspects where you scored less than 6, use self-reflection to reflect on the decisions that led you there.

What to do?

It is said in Lean; “A well-defined problem is problem half-solved.” This principle has helped me in acknowledging problems as and when I sense things aren’t working as they should.

We over-generalize issues, typecast people to a stereotype and make presumptions to suit our story. We seldom dig deeper to acknowledge there is a much bigger problem.

Often what we see is only the tip of the iceberg. We observe behaviours and try to fix that when most problems originate from the beliefs and values, we hold in life.

Not recognizing the problem is the biggest mistake we commit when making major life decisions. So don’t run away from a big problem but rather identify and embrace it wholeheartedly.

“It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.” — G.K Chesterton

7. Tataki Dai

It means to “critique the status, the proposal and the problems”, and not the person.

It forms the entire premise for “Agile philosophy” — to work in iterations and not in a waterfall model and to build and improve off the lessons from the previous sprints.

It helps in collaborative idea generation. Many brains are better than just one. It helps sharpen the idea, and the idea is no longer the brainchild of one person. It also presents an excellent opportunity to show people we value their inputs and criticism.

Do this simple exercise

Use physical boards, post-its, stickers to note your progress. Socialize your work (in-progress) with your friends, family, online communities.

It would help in several ways — it would invite more eyeballs to your final work, allow your loved ones to engage with your work, and lastly, it will help you keep going even when the going gets tough.

What to do?

Socialize your plans and ideas with people and adapt rather than trying to come up with a perfect plan. Also, don’t wait till you have the final output or an outcome. It need not be ideal.

Tataki-Dai is all about not being paralyzed by perfection and being open with others.

Perfection is a myth — what is perfect in your opinion might not be in someone else’s view.

A great business is not built overnight. It evolves with new ideas coming in and further feedback coming from customers.

Also, a constantly changing external environment makes the process all the more dynamic.

You create. You deliver. You improvise.

Summary

In summary, there is a lot to learn from traditional Japanese concepts.

  1. Muda — Declutter our lives — right from wasteful things to toxic thoughts
  2. Mura — Aim to lead a more sustainable, balanced life by maintaining work, leisure and sleep in equilibrium.
  3. Muri — Prioritize single-most important goal and de-prioritizing everything else.
  4. Genchi Gembutsu — Distancing from social media and embrace the real world
  5. Poka-Yoke — Identify areas of improvement that will complement your goals and taking one tiny step at a time.
  6. Hansei — Reflect on how we fare in various aspects of life — health, money, relationships, work, interests, productivity
  7. Tataki Dai — Socialise the draft or idea with others to gain more insights from people

Thinker, self-experimenter, and a newbie writer. I write about personal growth, socio-political issues, and career advice.

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